Marine Scientist Profile: Prof Rob Harcourt
Who am I?
My name is Prof Rob Harcourt and I am a marine vertebrate ecologist which means I study how fish, sharks, seals, dolphins, whales, penguins and seabirds all interact - who eats who.
I work for and my work / reseI work for Macquarie University and also with the Sydney Institute for Marine Science
My research involves Animal Behaviour and Ecology. My main interests revolve around the importance of individual variation in behaviour to foraging, communication, mating tactics and life experience. Recently much of my research has focused on individual differences and evolutionary mechanisms, combining observation and experimental manipulation of behaviour in the field with genetics.
My second major thrust has been the use of technology to 'open a window' into the world of large marine predators. We were the first team to successfully deploy satellite transmitters on fur seals and wintering Adelie penguins. This research has helped transform our understanding of how warm-blooded animals cope with environmental extremes as they forage and breed in the marine environment. I am now Team Leader of the Australian Animal Tagging and Monitoring System (AATAMS), a national initiative to observe large marine life including fish, sharks, seals, dolphins, whales, penguins and seabirds.
How does my work relate to marine conservation?
My work involves increasing our understanding of marine life and developing ways of protecting it into the future through education and working with government to protect and conserve.
Things I like about my job:
We see the most amazing animals, go to amazing places, get to do exciting science and we are helping to save our seas for the future.
What inspired you to consider a career in marine science?
For my PhD I got to go to Peru for two fantastic years to study South American fur seals. While I was there we had a severe El Niño year which killed hundreds of marine predators including seals. Witnessing this overwhelming influence of El Niño on the otherwise highly productive Peruvian marine ecosystem first hand, left me with a deep impression of the importance of focussing on environmental variability if we are to understand natural systems and the strategies animals have evolved to cope with them.
Do you have a favourite marine creature (if so why)?
Weddell seals - they are amazing animals who can hold their breath for over an hour and dive nearly 1 kilometre. They are not aggressive and will come and investigate you under water to see what you are doing. The puppies are born in the coldest place on earth yet thrive there and the mums are very protective of their babies.